Friday, December 23, 2016

Adventures in Public Transport

Now it's winter and we aren't faring places, I've still been lucky enough to do some travelling as readers here will know. At the end of November, we were in Poland and then the weekend before last, I was in England. Since in both places I've made extensive use of public transport, I thought I'd share some anecdotes with you that show (I think) why using buses, trams and trains is such a great way to meet local people when travelling abroad.

In Poland, for instance, public transport is very reasonably priced. I think the Poles must have heart failure when they come to the Netherlands and see how much it is here. Like most places now, the chip card system is replacing tickets in Poland although you can still buy paper tickets if you want. We wanted to pay upfront for our whole seven days in the Katowice area, so a card it had to be. Being dumbwits when it comes to understanding Polish, we had to ask at the office for help and this is where the Poles really shine for us. They are so patient and so helpful. Our lady had very little English, but between us we worked out what we had to do. It took ages: she wrote numbers down that we tried to make sense of; she tried to explain how to use the pin code machine, which I eventually understood; she gave us payment options and told us how to get our deposit back if we wanted it, but she made no complaint about the time any of this took and was as sweet as could be.

We travelled a lot by bus and tram in Poland. The Katowice network area is massive and we did quite a bit of sticking pins on the map and finding a bus going that way or simply looking at the destination and saying 'let's go there.' This led us first to Toszek with its gorgeous castle and then to Mikolow, a surprisingly pretty town with an old German square, both quite random discoveries for us. We also tried to go to a place called Halemba - twice - but didn't make it. We still don't know why, but it might have had something to do with a circular route...ahem.

On another occasion, this time on a tram, we met a man who initially told us he was diabetic and needed help to buy food. At first we were sceptical, I'm ashamed to say, but when he told us his story, I felt deeply for him. He used to work in the Netherlands until he he was diagnosed with diabetes, but he could no longer work because of the severe extent of his condition. We chatted to him for much of our journey and learned how things have perhaps not improved for everyone in Poland since the end of communism. 'Thirty years ago, I would have been looked after,' he said 'but not anymore'.

We also took a couple of train trips and while I was really impressed by the trains, I was even more impressed by the conductors. They were not only very nice, they were incredibly patient and helpful too. We had to buy our tickets on the train rather than on the station. Apparently, this is normal practice and the conductors have these onboard hand-held computers to calculate the prices and print the tickets.  You can only buy one way tickets, oddly, but that's the rule.

On our second train trip, we went to Zwardon, which involved buying a through ticket from Gliwice Labedy to Zwardon involving two changes. The conductor who sold us our ticket had trouble understanding where we wanted to go. I had the feeling she might not even have heard of it as I don't suppose many people from Gliwice ask to go there. In the end, after many attempts at trying to say the name (probably incorrectly) we had to 'spell' it for her on the wall of the carriage. Luckily, that worked, but I was again surprised by her patience.

On our return from chilly, snowy, Zwardon to Katowice, we had the same conductor as on our up trip - the wonderful Tomasz. I've never met a train conductor quite like him before. He told us so much about the history of Silesia and the area. He also showed us the most beautiful book about the Polish railways with its history and extensive maps and old photos. This was his reading material for the erudite conductor indeed.

Then a quick hop in time and over to the UK; to Shepton Mallet and Wells in Somerset at the beginning of December to be precise. Although I was staying at a B&B in Shepton Mallet, I needed to get to Wells every day. I'd hired a car, but for reasons I won't go into here, I cannot drive in the dark, so I had to take the bus on Friday and Saturday. Well, I'm so glad I did. It was such fun. I'd forgotten that people chat at bus stops and on the buses in England. That doesn't happen often here in the Netherlands, but in the UK, it's what you do when you're in the bus queue (innit?). For instance:
'Hallo love, you all right?'
'Yeah, pet, but the lumbago's giving me proper stick this week.'
'Oh no! So sorry you're poorly! It's the damp, love. I was just saying to my girls last week this wet weather's getting us all down.'
And so that's the norm. I'd forgotten this, having lived away from the UK for so long, but I was tickled to find out it's still true. On my first evening at the bus stop, after making friendly small talk with a lady standing in the bus shelter, a very nice gentleman, who reminded me rather forcefully of a garden gnome chatted to me on the bus itself and helped me with directions for when I arrived in Wells. In fact he was so helpful, he even wanted to escort me at the other end, but I told him I was more than grown up enough to find my own way. He wasn't convinced, bless him.

The following day, I was waiting at the bus stop in Wells waiting to return to the B&B and got chatting to a lass who was going to visit her boyfriend in Shepton Mallet. While we were talking, a young man came in looking a bit bemused asking if we knew when the next bus to Bristol was. He told us he'd fallen asleep on the bus and should have got off  some time before reaching Wells. He had a huge problem because his girlfriend was expecting him to collect her from Bristol Airport and his mum was expecting him home before going to fetch the girlfriend. What made matters worse, his phone had run out of battery power so he couldn't contact either of them. Oh dear. He looked very disconsolate and dishevelled. The girl I was talking to offered to let him use her phone to contact his mother. Between the three of us, we composed a text to tell his mum the bus had broken down and to ask her to come and get him from Wells. We all agreed that the truth was not an option and that he had to play the 'parent game' to smoothe things over. I hope everything worked out for him; he certainly looked a bit happier when our own bus departed a few minutes later. When we arrived back in Shepton Mallet, my young friend thanked me for the company and conversation.
'I hope you have a lovely evening,' I smiled at her.
Then she stepped off the bus into the arms of a romantic looking young man with Byronic curls, so I called out to them.
'Ah, I can see you will have a lovely evening.'
The boy looked puzzled, but the girl smiled. She knew what I knew. What a lovely way to end the day. There's nothing like a bit of random conversation with strangers on the buses to lift the spirits.

Have a lovely Christmas everyone xx


Patricia said...

What lovely stories, reminders of the kindness of strangers Val. Perfect sentiments for the Christmas season, and I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a happy New Year with lots more faring and adventures!

A Heron's View said...

Thank you for reminding me of the chatter that is conducted on provincial transport. I had quite forgotten about that, on the other hand still very clear in my memory are the three occasions I have of falling asleep on buses and one in particular of awakening in a Devon bus depot - I asked the conductor why had he not shook me ?
To which he replied " Because you looked so comfortable!"

JO said...

I travel by bus all the time - and always sit towards the back, as the chatter of young people on the back seat is such fun. But the lads who got in with big musical instruments, lugged them to the back seat, and shouted so everyone could hear - they wanted us all to know that (and I quote), 'Have you heard, like, Verdi's f*cking requiem, it's f*cking ace!'

Vallypee said...

Wonderful, Jo! I've never heard Verdi's requiem referred to like that before! Wishing you a wonderful Christmas with your family!

Vallypee said...

Oh bless him, Mel. But I don't suppose that was very convenient for you, was it? Have a wonderful yuletide and warm greetings to Mrs H too!

Vallypee said...

It's very heartwarming, isn't it Patricia. Absolutely the bet way to get in touch with people too. Wishing you and yours a wonderful Christmas season as well!

Terry Tyler said...

Love this post, Val, especially the Bristol and Shepton Mallet story! Interesting re the diabetic Pole... no system is all bad.

btw, I catch buses all the time as I don't drive, and (being an offish southerner as opposed to a friendly Geordie!) avoid bus stop conversations, which are, inevitably, about weather and the bus service. But I remember one old lady, last summer... she was really very old, bent over with a stick, and she said to me one day, "I hope you don't mind me saying this, dear, but whenever you walk past I always really enjoy your perfume, it smells lovely". Isn't that sweet? So now she's become not just a face at the bus stop but someone I say hello and chat to. :)

Hope all this will be in a book some time.... on the 'to be written' list, right??!! :) Happy Christmas, dear Val xx

Anne Mackle said...

Transport systems in other countries can be confusing. I don't often use the train here and the payment system is confusing to me. Where I have moved to everyone talks to you, I can go shopping in the supermarket or in the local town without people stopping to talk. It took a while to get used although I've always been used to it at bus stops it's just not usual in shops, you've had an exciting few months. Have a lovely Christmas x

Vallypee said...

Ah, Terry, that old lady must have made your day! What a lovely thing to say! And yes, I'm sure you have made a real friend there (as far as bus stop acquaintances can be). About a book on these adventures? Well, you never know...I might just do that ;) You have a lovely Christmas with Himself too, dear TT xx

Vallypee said...

Thank you, Anne! How lovely that everyone talks to each other so much. It must take ages to do the shopping now. I think it's great. You need never feel really lonely and cut off in a community like that. Lovely! Have a wonderful Christmas with your Jim and all the kids, Anne! xx

Stephanie Parker McKean said...

As always, a winning blog, Val. Interesting and heartfelt. Have a Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.

Vallypee said...

Thank you, dear Steph. I'm glad you liked it! All the seasons best for both of you too. Happy Christmas!! xx

Jenny Woolf said...

I hate the initial task of using public transport in a new country, I'm always scared I will get it wrong. I think the UK must have some of the worst public transport in the Western world!
Have a lovely Christmas, Val!

Vallypee said...

Thanks, Jenny! I actually thiught the bus availability and service had improved since I left. I don't remember such frequent buses when I lived in Somerset. And the drivers were very nice and accommodating. One even made an unscheduled stop to let someone off at a convenient place on route. I don't think that would happen here! Mind you, I think all public transport in Europe is good compared to South Africa :)

Cathy Ryan said...

Hope you had a lovely Christmas, Val and all best wishes for 2017! x

Vallypee said...

Thank you, Cathy! I did indeed. I must write another blog now as I've been slacking! Happy New Year to you too!!